In the middle of winter in 2009 I sat at Leichhardt Oval with David Zdrilic, David Basheer and a few hundred others watching a pre-season game between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners.
While we were encouraged by what Vitezslav Lavicka was doing with Sydney at the time the night wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.
Fast forward to 2012 when I joined two-thousand football fans at the same venue to watch Sydney FC play a pre-season game against Newcastle Jets.
It was fresh off the back of the announcement that Alessandro Del Piero had signed for the Sky Blues and the excitement around the inner west area of Sydney – which has a large population of residents with Italian heritage – was palpable.
For me the excitement wasn’t confined to the hype around Pinturicchio, it was on the pitch too.
I’d been living in Europe during last season so the last game I watched live in Australia was the 2011 Grand Final, but even in comparison to that, I was blown away with what I saw at Leichhardt Oval.
Not so much in a technical sense, I believe we still have a long way to go in improving that area, but most certainly from a tactical perspective.
Sydney FC was very well organised in a 4-2-3-1 system (although there are indications it might play a 4-3-3), keeping the lines tight without the ball, pressing when it could and always looking to play out from the back.
Newcastle was equally as impressive in a 3-4-3 system, one similar to the complex 3-3-1-3 made famous by Marcelo Bielsa and used by Barcelona at times last season.
The Jets too were well organised and looking to play out from the back, although most impressive of all was their incessant pressing, one some European teams would be proud to orchestrate.
I marveled at the tactical complexity on show in a country that less than 10 years ago seemed a slave to the flat 4-4-2 while looking to knock the ball as far as possible when any sort of pressure was applied.
It’s not just Sydney and Newcastle which are set to make this the most intriguing campaign since the league’s inception in 2005.
At Hindmarsh Stadium last week Adelaide United played what coach John Kosmina referred to as 'the best football in the club’s history".
Again I was taken aback by the quality on show against a highly-regarded Bunyodkor side in a quarter-final of a continental competition. Adelaide used a fast, aggressive 4-3-3 that took its opponent, as well as a few fans, completely by surprise.
From reports it seems that Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory are also set to light the league up with an exciting brand of attacking football too.
Without having seen much of the other teams it’s difficult to make a judgement but when every coach talks about a commitment to playing out from the back and producing entertaining football, the omens are good.
Aside from a passing interest in the Brisbane Broncos I don’t really mind who wins in the NRL. But for the Grand Final between Canterbury and Melbourne I will be backing the Bulldogs, for reasons that have nothing to do with Rugby League.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler has taken a team that finished outside the finals places to within one win of the title, albeit without changing the players and by introducing an intellectual, professional approach to Rugby League coaching.
What makes the Bulldogs’ success so important is that it could inspire a cultural shift in Australian sport.
For many Australian sports fans the key to success lies with the players, with coaches having little influence on performance, but Hasler and A-League coaches are demonstrating that high-level professional coaching is a key component to success and a sport’s development.